Cotton’s Library: The Many Perils of Preserving History
Of the four surviving copies of Magna Carta, Cotton’s library has two. It contains the exquisitely illuminated Lindisfarne Gospels, and the only Beowulf and Sir Gawain and the Green Knight manuscripts. But, The Cotton Library has had a perilous fight for survival over the last four centuries. Sir Robert Cotton amassed an incredible collection of ancient manuscripts; to preserve it, he left it to England–but, unfortunately the inheritors were not so careful with it. Cotton’s Library tells the fate of this collection, which languished in dampness, was engulfed in fire, diminished by theft, misuse, and neglect. But, it ultimately survived, becoming a cornerstone of the current British Library. It is a fascinating tale, told with lively prose, and sparkling with well-drawn personalities of the key players, heroes and villains alike. Bibliophiles will cry for the lost volumes and the mistreatment of irreplaceable texts, but what has remained, through heroic efforts, and what has to be called miraculous preservation considering the shameful treatment it has endured, is still amazingly rich and full of wonder. This is an excellent book, a wonderful, intelligent, and engrossing read. Cotton’s Library is a long-overdue tribute to a seminal, and priceless, collection.
Lyon Hall Press